T.H.E Dance Company is going digital this year, and with it comes some new technology they’ll be dabbling in too. This December, they’ll be releasing the PheNoumenon 360° Immersive Virtual-Reality Experience《现·象 360°虚拟實境》to the public, Singapore’s first full-length 360° Virtual-Reality (VR) Dance Production.
With the limitations placed on physical theatre spaces, VR seems to be the way to go, with the audience simply having to wear the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset and plug themselves in with earphones (sponsored by Creative Technology). As part of the immersive experience, the encounter also features 360° VR sound where a head tracking system is utilised such that the sound will shift according to the viewer’s head movements, mimicking a real life audio experience. Audiences are also given the choice to experience this virtual world from several standing and sitting viewpoints that they can select from. They will be further immersed into the world of PheNoumenon through an accompanying signature scent designed together with local perfumery partner, Jetaime Perfumery.
T.H.E Dance Company’s Founding Artistic Director Kuik Swee Boon shares: “Although it can never replace a live performance, by retaining certain characteristics of a live show, it closes the gap between audiences and a virtual performance. We believe VR technology and digitalisation allow us to reach out to more audiences and has the potential to bring more audiences back to theatres in better times. We will continue to push the limitations and boundaries of technology to preserve the integrity of audience participation and the live audience experience. At the end of the day, digitalisation has transformed our interactions with reality and it can be a double-edged sword. We are normalising a different way of socialising, and how we consume and view images and sounds. We still do not know how people will interpret and react to this ‘new normal’. Nevertheless, we hope to turn this crisis into an opportunity.”
The show was filmed from scratch in collaboration with Immersive Technology Partner, Hiverlab over an intense but exhilarating 4-day period at the Esplanade Theatre Studio in October 2020. A challenging process, filming was done via a 360° camera in the theatre, keeping the theatre set up and audience members (film extras) constant throughout all four days. Lighting and sound had to be readjusted on the spot as what previously worked for live theatre did not always come through on camera.
Company Manager Athelyna Swee talks about the motivation behind this production: “This is our first venture into VR. As a Company named ‘The Human Expression’, where the deepening of our everyday life experiences and building human connections with one another are often emphasised, perhaps the notion of virtual reality might seem like an irony. Yet, the safety measures that have to be upheld in the midst of this pandemic, coupled with the 2-month circuit breaker period that we experienced earlier this year, led us to think of tangible ways to bring the experience of watching a full-length contemporary dance work to people, in a time when live theatres were closed for a significant period are still reopening cautiously with many restrictions. For us, it is not so much about the novelty of the experience, but more of our belief in how dance has the potential to create a heightened awareness of the vulnerability and the power of the human body and soul – and we want to preserve this experience as best as we can, in the most immersive way that’s presently possible within our means. On top of that, we also hope that with the home rental model, we might be able to reach those who previously might have found it inconvenient to travel to the theatre to watch our shows for valid reasons such as mobility issues.”
For two weeks from 19th to 31st December 2020, T.H.E Dance Company will welcome audiences into their studio at Goodman Arts Centre to experience the production. Following this launch, T.H.E also plans for the experience to move towards several islandwide pop-ups and a home rental model that will be announced closer to date. The experience will also be available for digital tours internationally, with a documentary presenting the making of this 360° VR production set for release in January next year.
Trailer for Phenouemenon (2019)
The PheNouemenon 360° VR dance experience will be available for booking from 19th to 31st December 2020. Tickets and more information available here